Archive for December, 2010

2010 Media Follies!

By • on December 31, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Welcome to this 15th annual selection of a few of the year’s most over-hyped and underreported local stories. With the news business, especially newspapers, undergoing a not-very-slow collapse, and hard news coverage usually the first victim of tightening budgets, there was more underreported news than ever this year. Fear not, however. America’s addiction to trivial distractions can withstand any assault from economic hardship–or from reality.

2010′s Most Over-Hyped Stories: Local

Dino Rossi. In a year when most Republicans pretty much had to be caught multiple times copulating with sheep in order to lose their elections, Rossi trailed in the polls against incumbent Sen. Patty Murray from the day he announced his challenge. Despite the big Republican wave, and despite receiving huge sums of money (from the US Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, and the various other national corporate interests Rossi promised to faithfully serve), Rossi did no better in 2010 than he did against Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2008. Yet despite this–and despite Murray’s long history of beating better-funded Republican challengers–for endless months local media painted this race as a tossup. It never was.

Mike McGinn is evil incarnate. Local media–particularly the reactionaries running the Seattle Times–can’t quite seem to wrap their collective minds around the idea that someone who’s not part of Seattle’s Old Boys & Gals Network might have legitimate ideas and concerns. Well, to be fair, they’re not really trying to wrap their minds around that–they’re too busy trying to slag McGinn and promote Tim Burgess to replace him in 2013.

In April, local TV and newspapers gave enormous attention to local Tea Party rallies on Tax Day that drew a few hundred people at most. Two weeks later, a pro-immigrant rally in Seattle that drew at least ten times as many people was roundly ignored.

Plus, as usual, car crashes, fires, violent (and potentially violent) crimes, big (and not-so-big) weather “events,” heartwarming stories of photogenic, plucky survivors (preferably kids) overcoming adversity or being reunited with pets, and every other staple of Chuckle-Buddy News.

2010′s Most Over-Hyped Stories: National & International

The End of the Iraq War: Except for, you know, all the US troops still shooting and getting shot at. And the suicide bombers. And the civil war. And the newest wave of Iraqi refugees: exiles who tried to return, only to find the economy collapsed, government services nonexistent, tribalism rampant, and the violence often as bad as ever.

Iran Nukes: The International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN’s nuclear enforcement arm) has no evidence an Iranian nuclear weapons program even exists. If it does exist, it’s still years away from anything operational. Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not in violation of the treaty. (The US is, on numerous fronts.) And Iran has not attacked any other country in hundreds of years (The US, um, has.) Yeah, the Iranian government sucks. That’s no excuse for exaggeration and lies.

“Don’t touch my junk!” Better yet, don’t tap my phones, read my e-mail, or imprison me without trial or due process.

Anything concerning Glenn Beck. The fact that Beck’s pronouncements, which generally range from error-ridden to lunatic, are taken seriously by a large and credulous audience, is as damning an indictment of American ignorance as we’ve seen in generations.

Anything concerning Sarah Palin. Except for that.

Lindsay Lohan is in rehab again this week. Which reminds me; I’ve been meaning to ask. Who is Lindsay Lohan? And why does anyone care?

2010′s Most Underreported Stories: Local

The Seattle City Council and the Mayor passed up a well-qualified African American candidate for Chief of Police and opted for business-as-usual, in spite of a host of complaints about police brutality against minority suspects. And what happened? A subsequent rash of ugly nationally publicized incidents involving non-white victims of SPD abuse–most notoriously, the murder of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams–and predictably milquetoast responses from SPD and city leadership, who apparently don’t see the deep distrust such incidents foster as any serious kind of problem. Nothing a press release and obligatory promise of internal investigations (while the officers involved get, at worst, a nice paid vacation for their troubles) can’t cure, right?

The downtown traffic tunnel/viaduct replacement is already over budget. By making a quiet gift of half the reserve money to the contractor before a bid was even submitted, the state officially put the project over budget, but the local media decided to ignore this. Local media has also chosen to ignore the copious signs from the state legislature that Mayor McGinn’s concerns about Seattle taxpayers beings stuck with the cost overruns are well-grounded. Instead, we’re supposed to think McGinn is being paranoid, because Gov. Christine Gregoire has promised that she won’t let that happen–even though Gregoire will be long out of office before the bill for the overruns comes due.

The FBI investigation of the Port of Seattle’s contracting practices regarding the third runway at SeaTac died a quiet death with nearly no press coverage. With no one looking, it was easy for the feds to shelve the case, in spite of evidence of severe mismanagement and fraud. And we’re still waiting for the state to audit the rest of the Port’s corrupt, sleazy dealings.

The Regional Transit Taskforce recommendation to change the way bus service is allocated in King County got no airplay here. Every bus rider knows that the city needs more service and the outlying county less, but Metro is still relying on a formula that sends half-empty buses out to Issaquah and Auburn while in-city routes are standing-room-only.

A judge’s ruling that the Washington state law banning felons from voting violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act should have set off a concerted effort to extend voting rights to the incarcerated population of this state. We (and they) are still waiting.

It’s no surprise that the state has a huge budget deficit; nearly every state does. But all media coverage of the state’s budget struggles focuses on the “tough cuts” politicians have to make in wake of the voters’ defeat of tax increases in November. No one has even hinted at the possibility of closing any tax loopholes, particularly the $12 billion in B&O tax breaks given to businesses in this state every year.

The worst of these: Even as a special April legislative session wrestled with the gaping budget deficit, Olympia quietly passed a huge new tax break for Microsoft, redefining the state royalty tax in a way that not only saves Microsoft $100 million a year going forward, but retroactively absolved the company of up to $1.2 billion in back taxes, penalties, and interest from a scam involving claiming its software was licensed in the state of Nevada (which has no such tax), even though it was made and sold here. And in December, Gov. Gregoire effectively buried the issue by naming a former Microsoft executive to head the state Department of Revenue.

The corporate corruption of the state initiative process: All but one of the statewide initiatives that made the ballot in 2010 were put there by corporate interests–and corporate interests were instrumental in killing the lone exception (I-1098, the high earners’ income tax). While the corporate-funded initiatives met with mixed success, the real lesson was that a form of lawmaking that was supposed to be the avenue for ordinary citizens when we are shut out by special interests and corrupted lawmakers has itself been hijacked by those same interests. It’s much, much more difficult now for grassroots activists to qualify a measure for the ballot than it is for a big transnational corporation or trade association.

2010′s Most Underreported Stories: National & International

Meanwhile, at the national level, the impact of the January US Supreme Court Citizens United decision was enormous, swinging dozens of federal and and countless state and local elections in favor of whichever side (usually Republican) stood most to benefit from the newly legal corporate largesse. Corporate money swamped the 2010 election, yet pundits insisted on treating the election results as a message from voters–not as brainwashed voters repeating the paid messages they were bombarded with ad nauseam for months.

We’re used to thinking of global warming and global climate change as a slow-moving apocalypse, one that our children or their children will experience. But a myriad of data this year has shown that the drastic effects of climate change are coming sooner than we realized and are already well under way. From massive snow storms in Europe and the East Coast of North America to a drastic drop in phytoplankton in the world’s oceans, we’re seeing the results of our uncontrolled experiment with the Earth’s climate right now. And the utter failure of the government of the country that is the world’s worst per capita greenhouse gas emitter (namely, the Obama administration) to either pursue its own initiatives or help international agreements move forward is, simply put, a crime against humanity.

So many different aspects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico went unexamined or unreported that it’s difficult to choose just one. At the top of the list is the fact that these type of spills happen frequently elsewhere in the world (Nigeria, for example) with no attention from the Western press–although Western newspapers are quick to condemn Nigerian activists for attacking oil platforms. A close second is the scientific fact that oil doesn’t just disappear when you spray dispersants on it: it sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor, where many marine creatures live. Just because we can’t see the devastation doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And, sadly, no one is even attempting to study the long-term impact of the largest deepwater oil spill in US history.

The FBI is using your tax dollars to groom and train domestic terrorists, and then help them realize their half-formed dreams. In a year in which every single one of the nation’s “intelligence” agencies missed catching Faisal Shahzud (the Times Square bomber) until after he tried to set off his defective bomb, it was dispiriting to watch the FBI run major sting operations against troubled teenagers and homeless twenty-somethings. In those sting operations, the FBI brought to life troubled individuals’ fantasies that never, ever would have otherwise posed a threat to anyone.

The Return of the Know-Nothing Party. The main significance of the 2010 rise of the Tea Party and the continuing popularity of figures like Beck and Palin is that facts–scientific or otherwise–not only no longer matter to a large swath of American political culture, but are openly ridiculed as “elitist.” In such an environment, it’s hard to imagine effective responses to any of the myriad urgent crises facing the US or the world. One envisions dinosaurs looking at the large meteor hurtling to Earth, but not being concerned, because Tyrannosaurus Rush told them it was just another harmless chunk of green cheese. If not a damned plot by those irritating new “mammals.”

The nation’s new defense policy, announced with fanfare as a major change from the Bush administration’s Doctrine of Overwhelming Force, is in fact a continuation of American Empire business-as-usual. Obama & Co. have recycled all of the Bush era policies and given them a new, touchy-feely veneer. We call it the Doctrine of Overwhelming Denial.

The national budget deficit has nothing to do with Social Security or Medicare costs. The hard truth is that Bush era tax breaks for the rich plus two extremely expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have bankrupted the country. Good luck trying to find those facts in any major newspaper.

Did we say two wars? The US is now involved in a third major war, in Pakistan–a war that’s as much against the Pakistani military (which supports the Haqqani network of the Taliban) as it is against the Pakistani tribes that support the Taliban. And, of course, to keep the war going indefinitely, we’re arming and funding both sides.

Three wars? What about the fourth? Yes, the US got involved in a fourth major conflict this year: the civil war in Yemen, which has the potential to be as insoluble as the war in Afghanistan. And we’re still regularly bombing various Islamist factions in Somalia, too–or, at least, the hapless civilians who happen to be in whichever neighborhoods we’ve mistakenly targeted.

After nearly a full year without a functioning government, Iraq is on track to become a one-party state. The winners of this year’s election are still waiting to take office–any office of any kind. Meanwhile, the loser of the election has just crowned himself king for a second term. So much for the Bush-era mandate to “bring democracy to the Middle East.” And so much for Obama assurances that Iraq is no longer at war.

Shamefully unreported in the US, even though it took place in New York, is the United Nations report condemning the use of unmanned aerial drones as a war crime. The US continues to be the main deployer of unmanned drones (in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, and probably many other places we don’t know about), causing massive numbers of civilian casualties wherever they drop their bombs. Not so long ago, the US government accused Saddam Hussein of a war crime by building an unmanned drone that looked like a rusty bicycle with wings; now we use sleek, Boeing-made aerial drones on a daily basis to murderous effect.

Anti-globalization protests continue, in spite of the lack of media coverage. And the absence of the major media has allowed police departments and government military units to beat peaceful protestors with impunity at every meeting of the G-20. Meanwhile, the slow collapse of the global financial system is proving that anti-globalization protestors have been right all along.

Finally, an annual installment: Dick Cheney is Not in Jail: Still. And it’s not like he–and most of his closest friends and colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, at the highest levels of corporate and political America–haven’t tried. –Geov Parrish & Maria Tomchick. Check out Maria’s separate list of the Top Economic Stories of 2010.

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A Collapse Primer In Recent Podcasts

By • on December 27, 2010 at 5:51 pm

There’ve been some quite informative and interesting podcasts of late with regards to the ongoing collapse of Industrial Civilisation.

For the scientific background, we’ve got Charles Hall in episodes #234 and #235 of the C-Realm Podcast. Hall discusses his field of Biophysical Economics. Even though one might think the matters at hand are common sense (that is, we oughtn’t expect to be able to perpetually deplete finite resources), his take is most enlightening indeed.

If you want a more nuts-and-bolts look at the specifics of peak oil, the following episode, #236, with a student of Hall’s, would be a great place to start.

Paul Ehrlich, in a truly fascinating episode of the What Now radio show, gives more background, from the non-energy sides of ecological sustainability.

Nicole Foss, AKA “Stoneleigh” from The Automatic Earth, weighs in with the financial outlook; arguing that the impending implosion of the massive debt bubble will present greater near-term impacts than will energy constraints. This isn’t a podcast, but rather a lecture and Q&A session, entitled “A Century Of Challenges”. It’s also available from the blog, for a fee, and with accompanying slideshow presentation.

Two Beers With Steve’s recent discussion with Dave Pollard looks at what families and communities can do (and are doing) to face the coming difficulties.

And back at What Now, Michael Ruppert and Suzie Gruber give us a wide-ranging conversation covering pretty much all of the above topics. Part 1 and Part 2.

Happy listening!

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Making the Rich Happy

By • on December 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

Nicely in time for the end-of-year job ratings, President Obama has crawled from the political graveyard, where only a month ago wreaths were being heaped around his sepulcher. The Commentariat now gravely applauds his recent victories in the U.S. Congress: repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell inhibitions on gays in the military; Senate ratification [...]

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Grading Obama

By • on December 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

Barack Obama has had a very good week at the end of the lame duck session of Congress: repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, getting START passed, and even lesser legislation like money for 9-11 first responders and expanding LPFM community radio. All of it was done against long odds and an intransigent opposition, and wouldn’t have happened without Obama’s leadership. He deserves credit.

None of it is what his presidency will be judged by.

Obama cannot, almost by definition, be a mediocre president, for reasons that have nothing to do with his shattering the race barrier. He has to be great; if history doesn’t judge him as great, it’ll likely regard him as a disaster. There’s little middle ground. American presidents have largely been a mediocre lot. Lincoln and FDR are regarded as great because they inherited crises and succeeded; people like Andrew Johnson, Hoover, or Bush II were awful because they didn’t rise to their challenges.

By any measure, Obama inherited multiple crises of historic proportions: a terrible economy, two bankrupting and pointless wars, and climate change, to name three. Even worse, he did so in a political environment that’s bitterly divided, with an opposition more interested in immediate political advantage than what’s best for the country (let alone world).

So far Obama’s response to that last factor has been the key to his presidency. His insistence on bipartisanship in an environment where that’s not about to happen has been both a strength and a weakness; it can elevate him one moment, and make him look like he’s weak and not fighting back the next. His worst moments as president have been concessions to Republicans or Bush policy; his best moments would not have been possible without the political capital created by those worst moments. But in the three biggest crises he inherited, Obama is still incomplete, trending downward. The economy is foundering; Iraq (despite our semantic games) and Afghanistan are now Obama’s wars, dragging on at great cost of money and innocent lives and with no possible good outcome; and climate change continues to worsen with little coordinated federal response. In each case Obama has been limited by the political realities of his time, but in 50 years, if we’re still around as a country, nobody will remember that.

Obama could still finish regarded as “a brilliant president” or “an abject failure,” or “both.” The only unlikely option is “neither.” The world–not just the US–desperately needs him to rise to the occasion. And this week’s triumphs, on issues that are important but not all-defining, won’t matter at all in assessing whether he does or not.

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Ask Not What Your State Can Do For You

By • on December 15, 2010 at 12:36 pm

In a not-very-widely noticed postscript to this year’s election, Gov. Chris Gregoire announced two weeks ago that she was appointing Suzan DelBene to head the state’s Department of Revenue. Most news coverage (such as it was) of her appointment focused on DelBene’s recent loss to Republican Rep. Dave Reichert for the Eastside’s 8th District congressional [...]

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Nature & Politics: The Greater Traitor

By • on December 15, 2010 at 12:32 pm

As an Irish-American, I ask myself, Which of the two is the greater Judas to his nation: the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, or the American president, Barack Obama? Both of them are carrying out the same mission– plunging the bulk of the citizenry of their nations into debt peonage, so that bankers and the [...]

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Reclaim Our History: Special United Nations Issue!

By • on December 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Dec. 16, 1981: US votes against eight resolutions regarding rights of Palestinians, Israeli human rights violations, education of Palestinians, and equitable world distribution of communication technology. 1985: US votes against condemning human rights abuses by Israel and describing Israeli policy as the major roadblock to peace in the Middle East. Dec. 17, 1966: Against US [...]

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Focus on the Corporation: Corporate and Congressional Disasters

By • on December 15, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Corporate crime and wrongdoing is an everyday fact of life in the United States and around the world. Still, the last year has been remarkable for a series of high-profile, deadly corporate disasters: the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the [...]

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Tunnel debate update

By • on December 13, 2010 at 3:41 pm

The balanced debate concerning the Highway 99 tunnel project scheduled for December 16 now has a home: the Bertha Knight Landes room in Seattle City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle. Details at PubliCola.net. Where else would a Seattle citizen activist be on a Thursday evening?

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Disarm Now Plowshares activists found guilty

By • on December 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm

The federal criminal trial of five veteran peace activists that began December 7 ended today after the jury found them guilty on all counts. The five defendants, called the Disarm Now Plowshares, challenged the legality and morality of the US storage and use of thermonuclear missiles by Trident nuclear submarines at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base [...]

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